There's a clip of old video footage that resurfaces just about every time someone does another piece on Momma or Donner or me, so even though I was too young to remember it when it happened, all those viewings and reviewings have committed it to my memory. We're in the living room at the ranch. The sun's glinting off the dusty glass sliding doors leading out to the deck, and Momma's sitting with her back to them so the camera isn't really getting her face. She's just a voice coming out of a murky shadow, except that the light is coming through all that loose blonde hair of hers and wrapping her in a nimbus of gold.
The camera wavers as it tracks from her to the interviewer, who is young and earnest and more than a little angry. I forget what news service he's from exactly. One of the big European affiliates, maybe, or the BBC; his English is too precise to be American. Momma's already gotten him to admit that he's Jewish.
Donner is seven, tall for his age and on the verge of outgrowing the Hitler Youth uniform Momma made for him back when he was still the White Nationals' favorite party trick, a cute blond moppet reciting Nazi speeches from memory. Every time I watch this clip, I'm struck by the innocence of his face, how childishly, blankly happy he looks as he rattles through the words and snaps off a pudgy-handed Sieg Heil. It's less a salute than an exclamation mark.
I'm a towheaded toddler stacking alphabet blocks on the green shag carpet. The camera focuses on me briefly, playing my smiling Gerber-baby self against one of Momma's practiced rants. The interviewer is more and more rattled as the segment goes on. She's seen a hundred guys like him, but he's never had to talk to anyone like her before.
"Would you let your daughter bring home a child of another race to play with?" he asks. She laughs and shakes her head.
His face crumples. He can't believe how quickly she came up with the answer, how little she had to think about it. "Why not?"
"Precedent," Momma says calmly, stubbing out her cigarette. "Mud playdate one minute, Mud boyfriend the next. Why would I allow the one, knowing that it implies the other is acceptable? That's just sloppy parenting."
The interviewer exchanges a glance with the cameraman and shakes his head. The camera edges clockwise, to keep Momma in the shot but get me in the background as well.
"Would that be the end of the world?" he asks. There's a tremor in his voice; he already knows what she's going to say.
I knock the tower of blocks over, scream with delight, and begin, painstakingly, to build again. My mother glances my way, eyes cool and speculative from the new angle, and tightens her mouth. Donner edges closer to her. She ruffles his bright hair with her fingers, but doesn't look at him.
"I can tell you this," she says. "The minute she brought him over my threshold, she'd be dead to me. No questions asked."